Have you ever wondered why is it that in the Olympics, or in other major or minor athletic events (such as school sports days) the sprint event is the most awaited one, the event that gets the maximum audience, the maximum adulation? It’s typically the shortest sprint event, the 100m race for any big league event, or shorter distances if part of school sports day.
You may not have wondered about the reasons behind this, but it’s very likely that you’ve agree with me on the count that it is the sprint event indeed that’s the most valued event. Not the shot put, or the discus, nor the javelin, not the high jump or even the long jump. Or the many other individual events across the Olympics. The Olympics motto is Citius (faster), Altius (higher), Fortius (stronger) and yet it’s the Citius part of it that gets the maximum attention.
Most of the media connected people across the world would know the name of fastest man on earth today (I don’t think I even need to name Usain Bolt), but most of these people wouldn’t know the name of the best shot putter or fellow who executes the best fosbury flop.
And I don’t think it can be explained only by historical events or the media attention bestowed upon it – like for cricket in India which has benefitted from both these angles to become the no. 1 to 10 (or 20) sport in India. My theory, and it’s my fully unresearched, completely biased theory that the root cause is our evolutionary bias.
You say, “Eh,what?” I say that if you are going to read at least a few of my posts, you’re going to come across mentions of evolutionary bias in what might seem all kinds of weird contexts. But, to me, at least this one is rather straight-forward, actually literally straight-forward.
Only the really fit can run really fast. Being fit is a rather obvious and strongly positive signal that the individual is an excellent mate for reproduction. Bulky, fatter, thin, or not-so-well-built athletes can do well in other events. But to date I haven’t seen an elite sprinter (or even not so elite ones either) being anything except really well-toned.
Importantly, our faster ancestors could ostensibly be safer as they could run away from predators. There’s a limit to what you could achieve with strength – perhaps lift heavy boulders, or fought off some predators to an extent. But speed in the face of danger was most likely to save your life, and therefore allow the individual to procreate and spread his/her genes.
That to me is the most likely reason that our evolutionary biology has programmed into our genes in finding the sprint race as the most exciting event! Does that make sense?